When you’re trying to cook a quick dinner with not too many unusual ingredients — most of the time, in other words — some small touches can take something that would otherwise taste thrown together and turn it into something that tastes more thoughtful, more interesting and ultimately more satisfying.

Take a dish of lentils, mushrooms and kale. Sounds hearty, nutritious and simple, yes? Maybe a touch boring, too. But then you employ a few smart extra steps. You brown some butter before cooking onions in it, giving a nutty flavor to the whole shebang. You sear the chopped mushrooms so thoroughly that they get caramelized, almost burned, adding even more depth. Finally, you judiciously employ a little cream, less than you might think (just  1/2 cup for four servings), for richness. The lentils have been cooked separately before you simmer them with the cooked mushrooms in the cream, and the kale gets barely cooked, just enough to tenderize it.

The crowning touch, if you’d like: a sunny-side-up egg.

The idea comes from Ashley Rodriguez’s new book, “Date Night In.” As Valentine’s Day approaches, it’s a lesson that could apply as effectively to relationship maintenance as to cooking. Pay attention to the little things, and they just might add up to something bigger.


(Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)

Braised Lentils With Mushrooms and Kale